Letter of Laurier to Abbé Proulx [September 9, 1896]
[Note from the editor: In the fall of 1896, three separate delegations were sent by the Liberals to Rome to put their case to the Pope against clerical interference in the political affairs of Canada, specifically against the Liberal party in Quebec. Eventually, they presented the Holy See with the Laurier-Greenway compromise and requested that a legate be sent by the Vatican to investigate and report on the situation in Canada. These delegations were to result in the coming of Mgr. Merry del Val in 1897.
The delegations were made of: Abbé Jean-Baptiste Proulx, parish priest of St. Lin, the birthplace of Laurier, and former professor at the Séminaire de Ste-Thérèse, a classical college well-known for its liberalism and its openness to new ideas and vice-rector of the Montreal branch of Laval University. Abbé Proulx had intervened previously on behalf of the Liberal party and was a personal friend of Laurier. Gustave Drolet was a former zouave, a member of the delegation of Quebec zouaves sent to Italy in 1869-1870 to protect the Papal States against the threat of the Italian republican revolutionaries bent on unifying Italy. One of the main forces opposing Italian unification had been the Papacy. As a former zouave, and an unquestionable Christian, Drolet was particularly appreciated in Rome. The last envoy was Charles Fitzpatrick, whom we have discussed in another document, and who received an private audience with the pope.
In the first document, the reference to Mgr. Laflèche's intervention is to the sermon he made during the electoral campaign of 1896. This sermon caused quite a stir at the time. Large extracts from this sermon are printed, in French, elsewhere at the site.
The first letter reproduced here was one to establish the credentials of abbé Proulx, and thus was shown to a variety of people in Rome. The second was more private in nature and gave important instructions to Proulx as to his conduct in Rome.]
MY DEAR M. PROULX:
The attitude taken during the recent elections by Mgr. Laflèche and some other members of the episcopate, was, in my opinion, a great mistake. It seems to me certain that this violent intervention of the ecclesiastical authorities in the electoral arena cannot but have harmful consequences for the position that Catholics hold in the Confederation, and that it is equally likely to trouble the consciences of the faithful.
It may seem unseemly on my part to speak thus. I persist, however, in believing that the attitude which my political friends and I have taken in the question which was then submitted to the electors was much more in conformity with the ideas frequently expressed by his Holiness Leo XIII than the attitude of Mgr. Laflèche and of those who acted with him.
It is not, I think, presumptuous to believe that if the question is submitted to the pontifical, authorities at Rome, we may expect a statement of doctrine which would have the effect of bringing regrettable abuses to an end, maintaining peace and harmony in our country and reassuring the consciences of Catholics.
As you are about to sail for Rome, you will render a great service to the Catholics of this country who unfortunately have incurred the disfavour of cetain members of the episcopate, because of their political opinions and for no other reason, if you would state their case and represent to the pontifical authorities that all they seek in this country is to exercise their duties as citizens in accord with the recognized principles of the British Constitution, principles recognized equally by his Holiness Leo XIII.
[second letter to the same person, on the same date]
I am sending you herewith a private letter not intended for publicity, but which may however be shown as a credential. Mr. Drolet will leave shortly for Rome. My colleagues in the House of Commons are sending him as their advocate and interpreter to state their case officially, before the pontifical authorities. I would like you to keep in touch with him, in order to inform him as to all useful steps that should be taken to attain the end in view.
In a short time I shall send you a memorandum relative to the settlement of the school question, but the first thing to do is to make the pontifical authorities understand that we are Catholics and that we wish to remain Catholics but that in a constitutional country such as ours the attitude taken by Mgr. Laflèche and certain other members of the episcopate, if approved at Rome, would place us in a position of inferiority such that a Catholic could never become prime minister nor even form part of a government like the Canadian, in which Protestants are necessarily in a majority, since the Protestants are in a majority in the country.
I must repeat to you also what I have said already, that while disapproving the conduct of members of the episcopacy, to which I have just referred, it is not the intention of any of us to expose them to the slightest humiliation. If you consider it advisable that a delegate should be appointed for Canada, you will please inform me. I need not say to you that the selection of such a delegate would be of very great importance.
Accept my best wishes for your voyage.
Source : Oscar Douglas Skelton, Life and Letters of Wilfrid Laurier. Vol. 2, Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1921, 576p., pp. 33-35.
© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College